As Americans descend on big box stores and shopping malls during this holiday season, it’s likely few of them stop to think about the long journey the goods on the shelves made to arrive at their favorite outlets. Look closely and note that most of this merchandise is produced overseas. Unless people live near the coast or a major port city, they probably have little appreciation of the complexity of global shipping, or realize that the majority of goods still moves by water.
That’s why Proceedings decided to take a look at the current state of the Merchant Marine this month, and the issues it faces. It’s been several years since we’ve done so, and we wanted to see what changes were afoot.
One of the first people we turned to was longtime contributor Dr. Shashi Kumar, whom many readers know from the comprehensive Merchant Marine review he pens for us every May. Kumar warns of the industry’s shortage of qualified mariners and worries that the appeal of the sea is lost on today’s youth. He believes the allure of a career at sea has diminished. With globalization, vessel ownership and operations have shifted to pension funds and conglomerates seeking instant gains from buying and selling ships rather than operating them. The needs of merchant mariners themselves have been marginalized even though it is they who facilitate globalization.
Dr. Kumar calls for a concerted effort to recruit and retain qualified candidates for careers at sea from both traditional and newly emerging maritime nations. The International Maritime Organization designated 2010 the Year of the Seafarer. Now that it’s ending, the author says it’s time for the global community to recognize the selfless, daily dedication of 1.5 million mariners worldwide.
Efforts to “go green” will also have a drastic impact on the maritime industry. The transition must be achieved in a prudent, cost-effective manner, and it is both possible and affordable to do so. Commander Emil Muccin of the U.S. Maritime Service takes us through the new environmental rules and regulations for merchant shipping as well as fuel alternatives to oil. Sustainability is the order of the day and out-of-the-box thinking will be needed to get all maritime nations on board.
As crucial as the issues of crewing and green initiatives are to the Merchant Marine, the one that gains most public attention is piracy, especially when the U.S military is involved, as was the case with the attacks on the Maersk Alabama and the Magellan Star. It inevitably starts the discussion anew over the proper level of response from both the industry and the various maritime nations affected.
Shipping industry executive and former merchant master Stephen M. Carmel has a strong view on piracy. His keynote speech at October’s Naval Institute conference on the subject had the attendees buzzing. We asked him to share it as an article for those who weren’t lucky enough to attend his talk. In “The Big Myth of Somali Pirates” he debunks the notion of a historical correlation between Somali hijackers and the Barbary pirates of yore. Making such comparisons, he warns, and overestimating the actual threat of piracy, risks a failure to see what is strategically important.
The other option often discussed in the wake of a pirate attack is to give the merchant vessel some method of defending itself. Larry Cosgriff and Edward Feege, in their article “Arms & the Merchantman,” draw on their considerable expertise in maritime security issues to clearly and concisely lay out the pros and cons of putting armed guards on seagoing commercial vessels. It is their belief that past reluctance to do so must be reconsidered, given that naval forces cannot assume the full responsibility for security.
The Soviet submarine K-129 sank in 1968 with the loss of all hands. In August 1974, the U.S. intelligence community attempted to raise the sub. Many Russians continue to believe it succeeded. This operation is the subject of Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129, a new Naval Institute Press book by Norman Polmar and Michael White. Norman’s article this month, “In the Wake of a Sunken Soviet Submarine,” lays out new information discovered after he and his colleague completed the book manuscript. When the Soviets learned several months later of the American effort to raise the boat they threatened war if U.S. salvage teams returned to the site. A story of spies, lies, press leaks, and lingering distrust, it serves as an excellent introduction to this intriguing story. We hope you enjoy.